So that our faith may be firmly grounded in Our Lord and His Word, so that we may not lose heart but trust in God against the evidence of what we see and feel around us, and so that we might know and understand the relentless determination and persistence of the devil—that is part of the reason why Our Lord tells us the parable of the wheat and the tares. For Our Lord knows that our faith is weak and that we are easily discouraged. And He knows that the devil haunts us continually and wishes us to be in misery. And He knows that the life of the Christian is a life of constant cross-bearing. And He knows how easy it is for us to give into our despair, to shake our fist at God, to take the path of least resistance, and to see our faith and religion not as what matters most but simply as one of many segments of life that pull us in several directions.
So for this reason, Our Lord reminds us that with the faith He gives also comes many trials and frustrations, temptations and crosses, often at the hands of our family and companions in the faith. For where Our Lord plants the good seed of faith, there the devil plants the weeds of false hopes and fears. And where the Lord plants the good seed of His righteousness within us, there the devil plants within us the weeds of doubts and despair. But most of all where the Lord plants the good seed of sons of the kingdom who live from true faith and love in Him, then here comes the devil planting the weeds of wicked men who plot and strive against us and whose desire it is to uproot our hope in God. Or perhaps you can better understand it this way: “Where God builds a church, the devil builds a chapel.”
The parable Our Lord tells, then, comforts us by telling us that what we endure, what we must bear, what others may do to us is nothing new or unexpected. For if the church of God in Jerusalem crucified God’s own Son, why should we fare any better? And if one of the Lord’s own disciples betrayed Him, why should we be surprised when we are betrayed by fellow Christians? And if the Lord’s disciples forsook Him and fled, do not be surprised when men and women you know and trust slink away from you and do not hold your hand in your darkest moments. Only do not let such a temptation overtake you. But pray to the Lord that He give you the strength and courage to stand firm in the faith and to be His aid and comfort to your brothers and sisters in the Lord when their hour of need comes.
That is the first thing that we learn in today’s Gospel. And the second is much more profound and yet also much more comforting. So you must pay attention especially to these words: “No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them.”
What else can that little sentence indicate except the never-ending mercy of Our God and Lord? For He does not deal with us as He was dealt with. He does not say, “Better that one die than that the whole church is wiped out”—as Caiphas said before Our Lord’s trial. Instead, Our Lord is so sure of His Word, so sure of His promises, so sure that the devil with all His might and power and subtlety and cunning cannot and will not undo His elect—so sure is Our Lord of His victory over death and the grave that He allows the wicked to stand with the good, even as He also allows sin to adhere to our flesh while He feeds us with His own flesh and blood.
“Let both grow together”—both sin and righteousness, both the just and the unjust, both faith and despair. “Let them both grow together,” Our Lord says. “For My Word, My promise, My Gospel, My preaching, My Sacraments shall prevail. My saving Word shall not be overcome or undone, but shall continue to fight fearlessly against the assaults of the devil and for the good of all those who put their trust in Me. Let them both grow together, for the living shall praise Me and I will not allow My holy ones to see corruption. And who knows—perhaps the wicked will still be converted by the faith and love of the good; perhaps My light shall shine through the faithful so that they might bear the fruit of good works for the salvation of the unjust; and perhaps their patience and perseverance in the faith will be the true and lasting witness that will cause the unconverted to return to Me. If not, so be it. But because I desire not the death of man but that he turn from his sin and live, for this reason let them both grow together.”
Take heart, then, in the parable that Our Lord tells us today. He does not wish to discourage you, but to encourage your steadfast faith in Him. And in doing so, He strengthens and preserves your godly hope, even as He continues to feed and nourish His faithful and righteous by means of His Son’s own broken body and shed blood.
09 February 2006
Wheat & Tares II
Here is the homily I preached at yesterday's Mass, which resumed the Mass for Epiphany V. It weaves St Augustine's intrepretation of the parable with that of St Isidore of Pelusium, who suggests that the tares are the evils that live within the person.